“Sea to Sky” is the unofficial mantra of Vancouver, and it’s not hard to see why; as I started my walk through the historic neighborhood of Gastown, a quick glance to my right had my eyes darting down a long, desolate alleyway—you could just make out the view of the clear sea ahead, and then upward more, to the sweeping vistas of mountain peaks crowning through the fog and clouds. The “sea to sky” mantra is meant to be taken literally here, which is exemplary of the seamlessly fit ying and yang culture of nature and city—it’s no wonder urbanites and nature-lovers are one and the same here. Our guide to Vancouver will expose the most beautiful intricacies and must-dos of this spirited city.
Vancouver boast a serious foodie culture with a strong East Asian influence (read below for my personal recommendations), while social activism and start-ups are thriving here—Lululemon and Herschel Backpacks both got their start here. There is an endless list of activities and sights to do and see, from seaplane flights over the city, challenging hikes up Grouse Mountain, to discovering the best red bean buns in Chinatown. Whether you’re just visiting Vancouver for the first time, or moving here for good due to its widely touted quality of life ranking, I hope you enjoy my personal guide to Vancouver on what to see, do, and eat, as well as where to stay from the perspective of a New Yorker.
This guide to Vancouver is split up into two parts—Part 1 focuses on my recommendations on where to stay and eat, while Part 2 focuses on my favorites shops, newly discovered local brands, and my favorite sights and activities.
Just like in New York, neighborhoods vary significantly block-to-block, from grungy and hip Gastown, a bastion of gentrification, to new and upscale Yaletown, and everything in between. We stayed in an industrial loft in Gastown (similar to NYC’s Lower East Side or Williamsburg), which is a prime location for foodies, cocktail enthusiasts and shopoholics. Many of the best restaurants, cafes, and modernly designed shops that carry locally made goods are within walking distance, as is Canada Place, where you can hop on a bus that will take you to the most noteworthy tourist sites like Capilano Suspension Bridge and Whistler Mountain. Just be aware that Gastown borders DTSE, an area notorious for its open-air drug trade and homeless population.
Stay on Water or Cordova Street between Cambie and Abbott Street for easy access to all the nearby sites, shops, restos and cafes. Airbnb has some really great apartments in this area that feel like you’re living in the Village, but if you prefer staying at a hotel, I recommend Skwachays Lodge or Hotel le Soleil.
Slightly more upscale than Gastown is Yaletown, which would be my second choice neighborhood in Vancouver due to its proximity to Granville Island (a must-see we’ll discuss in Part 2), the Seawall, supernatural waterfront views, and boutique shop and restaurants. If you’re traveling with children, this is a more family-friendly neighborhood as well. Stay at Opus Hotel or Hotel Blu.
Did you know Conde Nast Traveller rated Vancouver #14 on its list of the “Best Food Cities in the World”? I couldn’t agree more. With the city’s Eastern expat influence resulting in some of the best Aburi and Macao cuisines I’ve personally ever tasted, to food trucks ranging from fresh green juices from the The Juice Truck to $5 fully-loaded Shawarmas from the Mr. Shawarma truck, there are options for every taste and budget. It’s no wonder you can choose from over 50 different foodie tours around the city. Or just follow this guide to Vancouver eats. I promise, we won’t disappoint.
Start your day with coffee: Vancouver has no shortage of truly noteworthy bean joints. With rain starting and stopping sporadically throughout the day, duck into one of the many indie coffee shops in Vancouver for a few minutes, or slowly sip and people-watch for a few hours.
1. Lost & Found, DTES
If you’re traveling for work, this is a great little spot to bring your laptop (lots of outlets!). Snag a seat at one of the many tables in the back “living room,” and grab a locally roasted Republica coffee. Lost & Found also makes its dough fresh every morning, with a selection of savory buns, sweet desserts, and breakfast breads. After a long flight, I went for the honey, lemon and ginger tea, and poached eggs with avocado on a sun dried tomato bun with pesto and parmesan. Both were delicious and tied me over until dinner. This coffee shop is a walking distance from the convention center, but far removed enough to get a feel for local Vancouver. They host a number of art and philanthropic events, so check their site for the latest schedule.
2. Revolver, Gastown
This is the spot for coffee snobs—Revolver curates a number of regional roasters from Seattle, Portland, Halifax, Calgary and more. If you have some extra time, get their coffee flight (best to try during off-hours as this place gets packed during peak time). We ordered the “duet” an off-menu item that consists of a shot of expresso and a machiatto. Seating is minimal and mostly communal, so not the most ideal cafe for work, but a great spot for a morning or mid-day pick-me-up. Bonus: Just around the corner is a cute shop called Old Faithful, where you can find a selection, albeit small, of niche scents, candles and bath products, alongside other artisanal gift products.
3. Noteable Mention – Timbertrain Coffee Roasters, Gastown
While we didn’t make it to this popular and well-respected java spot, it came highly recommended by locals. They roast their own beans here and their seating layouts is cool and creative, like sitting in a wooden train (hence the name).
Then, onto breakfast.
4. Scoozie’s, Downtown
The ultimate breakfast spot for quick service, excellent taste, and open daily. What it lacks in ambiance and decor, it makes up in its delicious breakfast dishes. The owner is jolly, greets you at the door and shows you to your seat. Ben went with the Eggs Florentine, which he raved about, and I had the Greek Yogurt with Fresh Fruit. I’m reluctant to get anything served with fresh fruit, because the fruit is usually a tiny amount of mostly melon and cantaloupe, but not here. Very generous portion of fresh berries, and even dragonfruit, served with their house-made B.C. honey mixture. On Saturday morning we tried going to Cafe Medina, which we read many rave reviews about, but the line was out the door, so we return for a second, also amazing, brunch at Scoozie’s. This place won’t disappoint in the service or taste department. They are famous for their breakfast deep-dishes and jumbo cinnamon buns.
5. Noteable Mention – Cafe Medina, Library District
This Mediterranean bistro is voted the best brunch spot year after year, and it’ll be clear in two seconds as to why we had to include it in our guide to Vancouver. Need we say more than liege-style waffles slathered with extravagant toppings such as lavender milk chocolate sauce or white chocolate pistachio rosewater. Or specialty drinks like lavender lattes or their version of a Mimosa, Mimouna No. 1, a blend of sparkling wine, fresh OJ, house-spiced honey, Amaro Montenegro, and pink peppercorn shell. I’m salivating as I write this, my perfumer nose aching in jealousy over the olfactory explosions I would have been experiencing (some people hate waiting on an hour-long line no matter how good the place may be – I’m looking at you Ben). Bonus: Cafe Medina serves breakfast all-day, and is vegetarian and gluten-free friendly.
Guide to Vancouver – Lunch/Snack
6. Golden Stone Bakery and Restaurant, Chinatown
This is a no frills, Hong Kong-style diner. Decor is old-school and dated, but that’s not why you come here. If there’s any indication to how good this place is, it’s the fact that we came here three times in 7 days, and probably would have gone even more if it weren’t for the fact that we wanted to discover other places. There’s a bun bakery in the front, and sitting area in the back. Breakfast is served all day. Each time we went we tried something different. I became obsessed with the red-bean + pineapple bun – not too sweet, the perfect amount of filling, and the dough is utterly irresistible. Also noteworthy was the egg tart (soft, flaky, and not too sweet – these go really fast, so come early to pick up a couple for dessert), and the noodles with scallions and bean curd. Ben raved about Golden Stone’s pork bun, as well as the sticky rice wrap (stuffed with a delicious bean and pork curd). Everything here is fresh. We didn’t spot too many tourists here either, mostly Chinese, which makes this place that much more authentic. Two meals, 4 buns, a dessert, and HK-style coffee and tea, with tip and tax ran us $10. Bonus: You can get a half dozen of buns for $3.73 (or $5 Canadian), which we overzealously did for our flight back to New York.
7. Tacofino, Gastown
With all its access to fresh water seafood, I wouldn’t say Vancouver has a major Mexican food scene. However, if you’re craving Mexican, Tacofino is the place to go. What first started as a food truck, turned into a number of restaurants, including one in Gastown, accessible from both Water St. and East Cordova. On one side you have the sit-down section, and on the other you have the takeout section. On our way to the Vancouver Social Club, we stopped here for a quick bite. Ben had the crispy chicken burrito, a mix of crispy chicken, rice, black chilli mayo, sriracha, cabbage, and guac, and I had a couple of fish tacos, made with cod, chipotle mayo, rice, black beans, cabbage, and salsa. Both dishes were delicious and the perfect small bite while on-the-go.
8. The Poke Guy, Downtown
It’s no secret that Poke has become a bit of a thing in New York, and with their choice of fresh seafood, Vancouver is riding the trend just the same. Ben made a stop at this place for lunch, and he was super pleased with the number of toppings he could choose, the substantial portion sizes, and the many different options of fish. He went with a mix of salmon, two types of tuna, dried seaweed, rice, tomatoes, avocado, and tobiko for a total of $13 USD. The Poke Guy is the perfect, work-day lunch spot — close to Canada Place Convention Center and central offices.
9. Granville Public Market, Granville Island
While touring Granville Island, the market is a great spot to satiate your hunger, and enjoy harbor views from the back. Shop here for local fruits, veggies, meats, fish and cheeses. The best of the best include Edible BC, Oyama, Seigel’s for bagels, and Lee’s famous donuts, in particular the honey-dipped donut. If you’re looking for simple fish and chips, look no further than Go Fish!, located right across from the entrance to Granville Island.
There’s no denying that shopping makes you hungry, and this food truck is conveniently located near Robson Street, the main shopping district in Vancouver. Their chicken wrap was packed with flavor, and the perfect afternoon snack to share.
11. Teahouse in Stanley Park, Stanley Park
The Teahouse at Stanley Park reminds me a lot of a smaller version of The Boathouse in Central Park. It is located right at the top of Third Beach. When I arrived at 11am, it wasn’t yet opened, but I did notice volunteers planting a variety of fruits, vegetables, and flowers right outside the entrance to the restaurant, which made me think that they use some of their home-grown vegetation in their dishes. I decided to take a stroll down to Third Beach to kill time (more on this in Part 2), and upon my return was greeted by the staff and sat at a table in the dining room with a beautiful, straight line view of English Bay. I’ve heard that in the summertime, sitting outside on the patio is lovely. The fire was going, which made for a cozy, cabin-like atmosphere. Give the Teahouse’s propensity for Pacific Northwestern fare, I asked what was most traditional to the area on the menu. I was pointed to the mushroom caps stuffed with crab and cheese, and ordered a flight of champagne to go with them. The food came quickly, and the mushroom caps were fantastic and perfectly filling for lunch. My only quip with this place is that it doesn’t have wifi, which is really unfortunate for international travelers who rely on wifi to get in touch.
Guide to Vancouver – Dinner
12. Miku, Downtown
Everything about this fine dining establishment is top-notch, starting with the floor-to-ceiling window views of seaplanes taking off and landing in Vancouver Harbour. Make reservations, as this place gets packed every night of the week—it’s one of the top rated restaurants in the city. We started with some Nigori Sake, followed by oyster shooters for the table, and fresh oysters on a half shell. I had the Miku Specialty Roll—salmon, crab, uni, cucumber, and tobiko rolled in their speciality Miku sauce, and the Ebi Oshi Sushi—pressed prawn, lime zest, and ume sauce, prepared using a flame-seared technique unique to Aburi sushi. Miku delivered the freshest, most perfectly moist sushi I’ve ever had. The sushi rice was so remarkable in its quality, texture, and flavor. The flavors of each dish were robust and truly complete. If you’re a green tea ice cream lover like me, finish off your Miku meal with the Green Tea Opera dessert, not to be missed. I loved Miku, and it was one of my favorite dining experiences in Vancouver.
13. Flying Pig, Gastown
This nouvou Canadian bistro is one of many restaurants in Vancouver that offer an excellent “Appy Hour” menu, served from 4-6pm every day. I had the P.E.I. mussels, which were a small but tasty starter, and then asked my friendly waiter, Josh, to recommend dishes on the regular menu that were unique to Vancouver. He highlighted a couple — Blackened Steelheed Trout, crispy brussel sprouts (apparently the best in the city), chilliwack creamed corn, and bone marrow cheezy bread. I’ll preface my choice by saying that, I’ve recently started eating meat again due to dietary reasons, however, my personal preference leans towards vegetarian and pescatarian choices, due to taste and ethical reasons. Given that the Flying Pig sources its meat from nearby, free-range, non-antibiotic farms, Gelderman and Mount Lehman, I decided to try the bone marrow cheezy bread, something I’ve never imagined I’d ever eat. I used my knife to spoon out just a tiny amount of the bone marrow and slathered it onto the cheezy bread—the entire combination literally melts in your mouth. Although considered just an appetizer, this dish is hearty and rich and can absolutely be eaten as a meal, unless you’re super hungry. I’d highly recommend it if you’re into this kind of thing. All their beers on tap were from local breweries, and Josh recommended his Fall favorite, A Wee Angry Scotch Ale from Russell Brewing Company—a dark, nutty and oaky beer perfect for a rainy, autumn day in Vancouver.
14. Tuc Craft Kitchen, Gastown
Another Canadian fare joint, with an excellent happy hour that goes until 6pm. Some great cocktails can be found on their happy hour menu like the Bees Knees and Brown Derby—old Grand-Dad bourbon, grapefruit, and honey. Let me just warn that this place was quite limited in their vegetarian and pescatarian options, and I struggled a bit trying to find something I would enjoy. The boys ordered the bone marrow popcorn and pork belly crackling to share, and said both were very rich and tasty. I ordered the Elk Saltimbocca—Peace River Elk, smoked Prosciutto, basil, fresh mozzarella, garlic confit potatoes, and duxelle foam. The Elk was a bit firm on the outside, but soft and juicy on the inside, with lots of filling. I wouldn’t say this was my favorite restaurant during my trip to Vancouver, but I think worthy of a visit, especially if you are a meat-eater and staying nearby in Gastown. Bonus: Their cocktail list is enviable, with drinks like Frida Kahlo Old Fashioned—Hornitos Represados Tequila, Pierre Ferrand dry curacao, cardamom and orange foam.
The best for last, drinks & desserts.
15. The Irish Heather, Gastown
This was a great little find in Gastown for a nightcap and dessert. It was a Saturday night and fully packed, so we were lead into another adjoining private space, where we were sat at a communal table. I believe during the day this room functions as the Salty Tongue Cafe, at night, it doubles as a backroom for the Irish Heather, which certainly had a cool, underground vibe. They have excellent mixed drinks and a large selection of whiskeys from around the world. I had the Ginger Lady, which was smooth and energizing, and Ben had the Glenlivet Squadron 70′ Single Cask 8yr Cask Strength. We decided to get some desserts, and being the chocolate lover that I am, I went for the chocolate mousse, which was served in a mason jar with espresso infused, caramelized pecans – too die for! Ben had the featured dessert, a lemon custard mousse, which he also loved. Bonus: This place is a winner of the Irish Whiskey Awards.
16. Mosquito, Gastown
On Friday night, we made a stop for drinks and desserts at this Art Deco-styled, upscale dessert & champagne bar. Given maple’s notoriety in Canada, I felt I had to try the chestnut, candy cap mushroom and maple dessert, and ordered it with an Aperol Spritz. Ben had the Pumpkin Saffron Creme Brulee paired with a Gassy Jack cocktail (Rittenhouse rye, Fernet Branca, Cherry Heering liqueur, orange bitters). While the presentation of both desserts was exquisite (and certainly Instagram-worthy), the taste, on the other hand, was a bit lackluster and awkward. The combination of ingredients, while interesting, tasted unbalanced. Cute date spot, but my preference for dessert goes to The Irish Heather or Miku.
17. L’Abbetoire, Gastown
While we unfortunately did not dine at this cozy, intimate resto, we were able to grab some cocktails. I had the Earl Grey Martini (recently, I’ve been on a kick of cocktails and desserts made with Earl Grey), which was made up of Broker’s gin, Sons of Vancouver Amaretto, earl grey & lavender, lemon and egg white and Ben had the Old Fashioned Way—Knob Creek 9 Year Old bourbon, raw sugar, angostura & Bittered Sling bitters. Delicious, strong, and refined cocktails—if the detail put into their cocktail menu is any indication of their food, this place is a must-go. They have a happy hour from 5:30-6:30 at the bar, where they serve half priced appetizers, cocktails, beer & wine features. Bonus: L’Abbetoir is famous for their avocado gimlet, a green concoction made with Rosemary and olive-infused Broker’s gin, fresh avocado, Apfelkorn schnapps, and lime.
18. Notable Mention – Bistro 101 at PICA, Pacific Coast of Culinary Arts, Grainville Island
I stopped into this bakery/cafe because I couldn’t stop gawking at the delectable desserts through the glass. While I didn’t actually purchase anything, Bistro 101 gets rave reviews from locals for a couple of different reasons. For one, as a result of it being a school, the dishes are innovative and unique—the students are always testing out new items on guests. Prices are very reasonable (a soup and sandwich will run you $7.75), and breads and pastries are frequently discounted. They also serve a Mon-Fri 3-course pre-fixe for lunch ($22) and dinner ($30), and a West Coast Buffet for lunch ($25) and dinner ($25) the first Friday of every month. Students prep your food live, kind of resembling any one of the many anxiety-inducing Gordon Ramsey cooking shows. Eating here means you are supporting the craft and creativity of budding culinary students. Bonus: Once a year, usually around June, they have a secret, seven-course tasting menu dinner for $35/person.
Vancouver is really pushing the culinary envelope by creating unique, fusion flavors grounded in Pacific Northwestern fare but enlightened by cultural diversity. Most of the restaurants I encountered were huge supporters of locally and humanely sourced ingredients, which ties into this palpable social activism felt throughout the city. You probably use review sites to find places to drink and dine, especially when visiting a new city. But do you ever find yourself going to a place that’s highly rated only to be disappointed by their unpraiseworthy food or staid cocktail list? While I’ve definitely found this to be the case in New York on some instances, in Vancouver, it seemed like every well-rated restaurant lived up to its hype. Each one delightful in its own way, with great service to boot. Vancouver is really worth a trip, even if just for the food alone. In Part 2 of our guide to Vancouver, we’ll dive into the best shopping and sights to check out, some that are worth the…climb.
Sound off below. Have you been to Vancouver? What was your foodie experience there? Which neighborhood did you stay in?